SpaceX on track to launch first NASA astronauts in May, president says

SpaceX is closing in on its first human spaceflight, with President and COO Gwynne Shotwell telling reporters on Tuesday that the company is aiming to fly astronauts to space in about two months.


photo credit: SpaceX


“We’re gunning for May. We have work to do, NASA has work to do,” Shotwell said at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, D.C.


Her comments mean SpaceX remains on schedule in its quest to be the first U.S. company to fly NASA astronauts in nearly a decade. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in January that the company’s first crewed mission, known as Demo-2, would likely happen in the second quarter of the year, between April and June. This mission would see two NASA astronauts visit the International Space Station for at least a few days.


Only a few milestones remain for SpaceX, which has been developing the Crew Dragon capsule in part thanks to more than $3.1 billion in NASA awards.


“We’re going to have to go through a certification process,” Shotwell said.


photo credit: SpaceX


The SpaceX president noted that the length of the mission is still under consideration, saying its “kind of TBD right now.” NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are currently undergoing additional training, as the agency may have them stay on the International Space Station longer than expected during Demo-2.


“I think with the training that Bob and Doug are going through right now ... I think we can be done by May, but we want to be ready to fly in May,” Shotwell said.


Shotwell also noted that SpaceX is planning to reuse its Crew Dragon capsules. That was in doubt previously, as the leader of NASA’s Commercial Crew program said in 2018 that SpaceX would use a new capsule each time the company flew the agency’s astronauts.

“We can fly crew more than once on a Crew Dragon,” Shotwell said. “I’m pretty sure NASA is going to be okay with reuse.”


SpaceX has been using an earlier version of the capsule, called Cargo Dragon, to deliver NASA supplies and research to the space station.


Notably, the company has reused three of those Cargo Dragon capsules three times, giving the company practice before launching people. SpaceX has become famous for reusing its rocket boosters. Before SpaceX began landing its rocket boosters, companies and governments would drop them in the ocean after a launch, making other rocket boosters a one-time use.

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